Sharon: Walking alongside

“It’s her life. I’m just kind of a checks and balance person.”

Sharon’s daughter, Gabrielle, experienced anxiety in elementary school, followed by angry outbursts during adolescence. During middle school, other girls bullied Gabrielle. After school, she would run up to her room, slam the door, scream, and “fall apart.” Sharon realized Gabrielle’s behavior was outside the norm. When Gabrielle changed schools to attend a small, private, conservative high school, her classmates elected her a homecoming princess as a freshman and boys gave her a lot of attention. After a relationship with a junior boy became abusive, necessitating an order for protection, Sharon pulled her daughter out of school and arranged for therapy. She explained there was a “lot of drama” in Gabrielle’s life, which led to starting a prescribed medication–an SSRI.

Note: SSRI is the abbreviation for the drug category of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Medications in this category are prescribed for depression. SSRIs are one type of neurotransmitter that helps the brain to effectively send messages by allowing serotonin to build up between neurons.

In college Gabrielle achieved successshe lived on campus, held a position as a resident assistant, tutored kids in the library, and took on a part-time job, while also working on a double major. In her junior year, when a class physics project gained the attention of the local newspaper, Gabrielle was interviewed and quoted in an article. However, soon after she could not keep up with the demanding pace of her college schedule, called her mother, and came home. Sharon noted signs of grandiose and delusional thinking and Gabrielle threatened self-harm. Recognizing her daughter's symptoms as a crisis, Sharon took her to the hospital and stayed with her in the hospital until midnight. The next day Sharon began a week-long training course on teaching about mental health, part of her job responsibilities in a public health department.

It was so weird. I’m the helper. I address everybody’s crisis and I’m conditioned. I got up on Monday morning and it was a five-day class. We had to be tested throughout the five days and I had homework in order to be credentialed to teach the curriculum by Friday. I was doing my homework in the inpatient unit at the hospital while visiting Gabrielle. I told everybody in the class. I’m pretty transparent. I’m not afraid. I’m confident about that. I was pretty shaken because this was the first time this had happened.

Following discharge, Gabrielle quit school and moved home. Although Gabrielle seemed overwhelmed by the bipolar diagnosis, Sharon was reassured by knowing a diagnosis. At that point she did not think her daughter had a serious mental illness.